Three days of blue skies and sunshine has precipitated an unprecedently early emergence of the BBQ and garden furniture. They are stored in a stable during winter. We carried them round to the house on Sunday, and set them up in the back garden before mixing a jug of Pimms and waiting for friends to arrive.
The garden table, once so smart has long since lost its lustre, thanks to my erroneous belief that a coat of brown exterior wood paint would preserve its good looks. In fact, it had the opposite effect, and resulted in a shabby, permanently peeling surface which was now covered with archipelagos of sparrow poo after 6 months under the rafters in a stable.
“What we need is one of those plastic table cloths that they cut to size in the hard ware shop.” Said Jasper.
“Ooh yes! I’ve seen some really nice ones in there, very similar to the Cath Kidston prints.” I agreed enthusiastically.
“I’ll measure the table and go in to town first thing in the morning to buy one. And I’ll get some nice burgers and steaks from the Butchers, and some salad things. We can have a BBQ tomorrow night.”
The next day dawned as beautiful as the one before. A ground frost shimmered on the lawn under a cloudless blue sky. In the distance, Bulbarrow Hill lay wreathed in mist. It was going to be a hot day, I thought excitedly, as I dug out my summery top and a floaty linen skirt.
I was humming merrily when Jasper came in for breakfast. Lily was eating her egg and soldiers and clapped her hands excitedly.
“Daddy! Me and Mummy going shopping in town!”
“Are you quite mad? It’s Market Day. It will be hell in there.”
“It’ll be fine. I’ll park in the centre and then we can walk to all the shops.”
“All the shops?”
“Yes, Butchers, Post Office, Co-op, Fabric Warehouse, Harts Hardware Store, and Agnes and Vera to buy a present for Freddie.” I replied, grappling about in the pantry in search of the eponymous housekeeping jar.
“There was £40 in here two days ago. ” I said crossly.
“I used it to pay off the tab at The Antelope.”
“That money was supposed to pay for the two Gloucester Old Spots I ordered. They’re being delivered this afternoon.”
“You’ll have to go the bank and take some money out.”
“YAY!! Bank! I love the bank!” squealed Lily, jumping up and down.
“Do you darling?” I asked in surprise. She had never mentioned a fondness for banks before.
“Have you never taken Lily into the bank?” Jasper asked, raising his eyebrows.
“Oh, no reason. She’s so well behaved in there. Sits at the kiddies table and plays with the toys. They love her in there.”
“Everyone loves Lily.” I said, ruffling her golden curls fondly.
“Right, come on, let’s go shopping Lily!”
“OOHH! Shopping!” she trilled, racing out of the back door and scrambling into her car seat.
Lily won the customary brief but vociferous disagreement about whether the dogs should accompany us on our excursion –
“I want dogs to come!”
“No darling, they make such a mess of the car.”
“WANT DOGS TO COME!!”
“Now don’t bully me darling, because I won’t tolerate it. I will NOT give in I tell you!”
“Geddin the car dogs!” (Lily)
“GET OUT of the car dogs!” (Me)
Therein follows a few moments of chaos during which the three thoroughly confused animals scramble simultaneously into the back seat before being hoisted out the door on the other side.
Lily’s rage at their eviction manifests in a carefully honed, piercingly high shriek which makes my ears throb, at which point, I yank open the car door and scream at the cowering dogs to get into the bloody car.
A few minutes later we were bowling merrily along the lanes towards town, enjoying the warm air through the open windows. Bandit and Frog stuck their heads out of the window, and Lily whooped delightedly as the wind whipped their ears back and filled their jowls.
I parked in the little car park behind the hairdressers, and unstrapped Lily from her seat. The market square was teeming with people, and it took a while to make our way through the throngs of people and reach the bank. We took our place in the long queue. The old dears with their pension books gazed at Lily with fond expressions.
“She’s as pretty as a picture! ” said one old lady with a wicker basket.
“Beautiful eyes hasn’t she?” exclaimed another.
Lily twirled around, holding out her gingham frock and smiled coyly up at them from beneath her long eyelashes, prompting a chorus of Oohing and Aahing. I beamed proudly, basking in the reflected glory of being Mother to such a pretty child. We had reached the front of the queue, and I was exchanging pleasantries with Vera, the hirstute, obese cashier who has worked in there for as long as I can remember, when Lily asked to be picked up. I put her on the counter where she pressed her nose against the glass and gazed at Vera with an open mouth. Vera recoiled noticeably, and grimaced.
I assumed she didn’t like children and thought nothing more of it.
“What is it darling?” I muttered absent -mindedly.
“Look at that lady!” she insisted, tapping on the glass.
“That lady is called Vera.” I said, pushing the slip across the counter.
“Vera.” She repeated dreamily.
“Vera’s fat isn’t she Mummy?” she asked matter of factly. Her voice rang out, echoing around the high ceiling, bouncing gleefully off the plate glass window behind which Vera crouched in her chair like a gremlin, nostrils flared, scowling.
There was a collective intake of breath. You could have heard a pin drop.
The thrill of horror at the base of my spine spread upwards to my neck and face, blooming into a hot flush of shame. I felt light headed. If I ignored her, she wouldn’t say it again.
Lily’s breath was misting the bullet proof glass as she stared in at Vera with a fascinated expression.
“Don’t stare Lily, please, it’s rude.” I whispered.
Lily carried on staring.
There was a pause.
“Vera’s fat and she’s got a little beard, hasn’t she Mummy?”
My throat constricted. The sense of mortification was all consuming. Had someone handed me a gun, I would have shot myself on the spot.
“It’s not a beard, darling. Please Lily. Would you like an ice cream now? Or some cake?”
“It IS a beard. Look Mummy. LOOK!” she insisted shrilly.
I peered at Vera from beneath lowered brows. She was staring straight in front of her, lips pursed, flabby cheeks clenched. She looked incandescent with rage, pudgy fists clenched, no doubt envisaging throttling her tiny persecutor.
“Hi Vera. Hi there!! “ called Lily, waving at her through the glass.
Vera sat unblinking, like a giant bullfrog.
“Hallo Vera!” she yelled, banging on the glass.
Aloe Vera, I thought to myself, and was suddenly gripped by a terrible hysteria.
“Thankyou Vera.” I managed to mumble, before throwing Lily over my soldier and hurrying past the queue of people, all of whom kept their eyes to the floor, and out onto the street.
So immense was my shame that I had to scuttle into the newsagents to buy cigarettes, one of which I was puffing furiously upon outside the camera shop, when Jasper’s Mother came round the corner laden down with vegetables from the market.
“Hello Lily, hello Jess. Oh, Mummy’s smoking again, naughty Mummy told Granny she had given up. Mummy has been telling fibs! Oh what a shame Jess, and on the street too!” she bellowed in a disappointed voice. People were looking at us. She looked stern. I half thought she was going to tell me to go to my room and think about what I had done.
“I Had a bit of a stressful time in the bank. That’s why I am smoking.” I explained.
Jill gaped in dismay.
“What sort of stress? I hope they’re not sending the BAILIFFS in again?” she screamed.
Every single stall holder and customer in the densely packed vicinity wheeled around to stare.
Oh God, I thought, she’s going potty.
“What??! What do you mean are they sending the bailiffs in again? We’ve never had the bailiffs in.”
“What’s a bailiff?” asked Lily.
Over Jill’s shoulder I caught the eye of our neighbour Maud Farquhar, the Brigadier’s wife, and arguably the most ferocious gossip in Dorset. She looked away immediately and scrutinised a pineapple with the intensely concentrated expression of one who is trying not to look as though they are eavesdropping.
“Are you sure dear? They can come in and take EVERYTHING you know. Just march in and take the lot. They’ll even take the chair you’re sitting in!” she boomed.
“There are no Bailiff’s. This has nothing to do with Bailiff’s or finances. Please, it doesn’t matter.”
Maud Farquhar had scurried off down the street. I watched her narrowly avoid a lamp post as she fumbled with her mobile phone, no doubt calling to share the news with our fellow parishoners. By the time I got home, everyone in Dorset will think the Millers have gone bankrupt, I thought balefully as we walked back to the car.
Ten minutes later we were in Harts, the best shop in Sturminster where you can find everything you could possibly want under one roof. I had made a vow to be good, and only to purchase the Wellingtons which Jasper had sent me in for. I picked up a pair and was on my way to the checkout when a shiny display featuring duck egg blue Le Creuset caught my eye. Lily was quite happy playing with a box of tumble dryer balls, so I wandered over. Just a look wouldn’t hurt, I thought to myself. I stood there leering over the Casserole dishes, admiring the sleek cast iron contours, the way the light bounced off the lid. I was just thinking how beautiful it would look atop the AGA, filled with Venison and wine and herbs, when someone tapped me on the shoulder.
I jumped guiltily and turned round. It was a male member of staff, looking very serious. I glanced around for Lily, and with a wild jolt of panic realised she had disappeared.
“Oh My God, Lily, is she alright? Have you seen her?” I gasped, heart pounding.
“Yes Madam, she is fine. “
“Well, where is she?”
“She is currently in the Oven and Baking Tray Aisle.” He said gravely before turning on his heel.
I followed his ramrod straight back past the rails of clothes, through the DIY and lighting department, through home ceramics, past walls of Kilner Jars, whereupon he stopped suddenly and gestured.
I followed the direction of his finger.
There, crouching down on the floor, flanked on one side by Cake tins, and on the other by Emma Bridgewater Fine China, was Lily.
“Darling, what are you doing?” I asked, making my way through the group of people who were standing watching her.
She stood up and clapped her hands, before turning around and pointing at the floor.
“Look Mummy! I done a poo!” she shouted.
Oh please God, no.
An unfeasibly large crap lay steaming gently on the polished marble floor
Everyone turned around to look at Mummy.
For the second time that day I blushed to my roots.
“I am so so sorry, have you any thing I can clean it up with?” I said to the poe faced sales assistant.
“My colleague is bringing some cleaning utensils now.”
“Lily wipe her botty!” she trilled cheerily.
I turned around in time to see her totter over to the car section and grab a Chamois Leather, with which she proceeded to wipe her poo smeared buttocks.
The Sales Assistant looked as though he was about to spontaneously combust.
“I’m sorry, I’ll pay for it. Just put it on our bill” I croaked.
“Lily, come here darling, please.” I pleaded.
“No!” she cackled, before grabbing a rolling pin and setting off at high speed toward the paint section. I gave chase, but she was too quick for me. The aisles were full of shoppers, most of whom had stopped shopping and were watching the situation unfold with expressions ranging between hilarity, sympathy and disgust. She gave me the slip again in the cleaning product aisle, but I doubled back on myself and managed to trap her in the Baking Section.
A school age boy, presumably on work experience was gingerly approaching the crime scene, carrying a garden trowel and a plastic bag, presumably with which to dispose of the rogue turd. He gaped in dismay at the sight of it, but made his way down the aisle with admirable stoicism.
“Please, let me do it. You shouldn’t have to deal with it.” I said.
He looked at me and said bravely “Bosses orders.” before taking a deep breath and bending down.
“Don’t you touch that!” Lily piped up in a warning voice.
He stopped, bent over, and looked at her.
“It’s my poo! Leave it alone!” she said mutinously.
“That’s enough Lily, you can’t poo on the floor and leave it there. The nice man has to pick it up.”
“Why?” she demanded.
“Because it’s smelly and people might tread in it.”
The boy stepped forward.
“DON’T TOUCH MY POO!” she bellowed, puce with rage.
I reached out, grabbed her under my arm and ran out of the shop with her, kicking and screaming blue murder.
I slunk over to the Garden Centre and hosed her bottom and legs, until she was clean enough to go back in the car seat.
Feeling thoroughly shaken now, I lit a cigarette with a trembling hand and leant against the car to smoke it.
I’d had three puffs when Jasper’s Mother drove in to the space alongside me and wound down the window.
“Smoking AGAIN Jess! Really dear. I wish you would stop!” she tutted as she got out of the car and wandered into the shop.
Wearily, I started the car and drove across to the fabric shop. I parked in the shade, made sure the dogs water bowl was topped up, before unstrapping Lily and, holding her firmly by the hand, started to look at the choice of table cloths. Lily’s eyes were on stalks, as she gazed in awe at the hundreds of tubes of brightly coloured buttons, thousands of balls of wool, fabrics as bright as birds of paradise teetered to the ceiling and dozens of reels of pretty ribbons lined the walls.
“You mustn’t touch anything.” I whispered to her.
“No Mummy, I won’t.”
I chose a table cloth and we waited at the counter to be served. We moved to one side to make way for a fabric delivery, three very long rolls which were propped up against the counter a few feet from us.
“Would you mind helping me fold it?” the sales assistant asked me.
“No, not at all. Stay right there Lily.”
We had almost finished folding it when there was the most almighty crash. The fabric rolls had knocked over the huge circular button stand, sending it flying across the warehouse, disgorging its contents, and almost cannoning into an old man in a wheelchair. Hundreds of tubes of buttons skittered off across the floor, into the gloomy recesses beneath the fabric stands, never to be seen again. Many of the lids came off at the point of impact. The floor was awash with an ocean of buttons and beads. People stood with their hands over their mouths. A young baby was sobbing inconsolably with fright.
Lily stood with her finger in her mouth, the picture of guilt.
“Did you push those rolls?” I asked her.
The doors to the upstairs offices were opening and people were looking out of their interior windows onto the scene of devastation.
The Factory Owner appeared at the top of the stairs. I took one look at his enraged face, grabbed Lily, and bolted.
I was hastily strapping her into her car seat when she pointed out of the window.
“Look Mummy! It’s Bandit!” she shouted.
“No it’s not, Bandit is in the car.”
I quickly checked. Bandit was not in the car.
Bandit was sitting grinning, at the feet of three disapproving looking sixty something women.
They had secured him with a silk head scarf. He lounged against their legs, squinting up into the sun light, his lipstick pink willy protruded and lolling against his stomach.
“Hello, that’s my dog. He must have jumped out of the car window!” I said apologetically.
The despotic trio glared at me.
“Your dog is it? What’s he doing wandering around a car park then?” demanded one, her face twitching with disapproval, like milk coming to the boil.
“He’s never done it before, he must have tried to follow me.”
“You shouldn’t keep dogs in cars all day in this weather. It’s not fair. They can die!”snapped another.
“It wasn’t all day. And they have a big bowl of cold water. Look.” I said, pointing into the boot.
“The vet and Police are on their way. We phoned them.” Said the third, crossing her arms smugly.
“What on earth for?” I asked in bewilderment.
“He hasn’t done any harm to anyone? I was only in the shop for 5 minutes.”
Just then, Mr Saunders from Saunders Carpets came out of his shop looking very grim indeed.
“That your dog?” he demanded.
I nodded weakly.
“Well he’s just been in my show room and cocked his leg all over my best Axminster carpet! £70 a square metre it is, and he walks in bold as brass and sprayed it.”
I looked at Bandit. He hung his head.
His three captors looked at me with gloating expressions.
“Thankyou for looking after him, it was really kind, but we have to go home now.”
“You can’t go home, don’t you want to stay and talk to PC Routledge?” demanded one.
“Erm, no, I don’t.”
Their outraged chuntering was so loud that it almost drowned out the noise of Lily’s hysterical giggles as Bandit jumped into the front seat still wearing the Head Scarf. He looked like Hilda Ogden.
I fought the urge to giggle as I handed it back and said my polite goodbyes.
Jasper was waiting for me when I got back.
He took one look at my face and started laughing.
“You could have warned me. I should imagine I am persona non grata in Sturminster now. And Bandit is definitely Canis Non Grata.” I said sulkily.
“Did you get my wellies?”
“No, I had to do a runner. There wasn’t time to stop and grab them. Sorry.”
“Let’s start the BBQ and then you can tell me all about it.”
I cheered slightly at the thought of the delicious sirloin steaks I had bought from the butchers.
I felt around in my shopping bag. No steaks.
The three Amigos wouldn’t look me in the eye. Further inspection yielded the damning evidence that I needed. The torn open Butchers Bag lay crumpled beneath Trevor’s paw.
There was an irritable banging against the back window. Lily was telling us she wanted to get out.
Jasper reached in to unbuckle her.
“Why the hell is she carrying this?” he asked, holding aloft a beechwood rolling pin.